Column for Jewish News August 24 2018
I’m not keen on over-dramatising situations, but sometimes it’s useful to look at words attributed to Harold Macmillan, when asked what was most likely to blow a government off course — “Events, dear boy, events.”
Let’s consider some of the most recent events.
Dame Margaret Hodge MP gave an interview on Sky in which she spoke about her treatment at the hands of Labour’s hierarchy, and then recalled her father telling her always to keep a packed suitcase in the hall. Jews always needed to be ready to run, was the sub-text. But this painful recollection led to two responses: one, the deeply unpleasant social media hashtag #Hodgecomparisons, in which a variety of think-themselves-witty contributors produced the most banal thing they could come up with and contrasted it sarcastically with Dame Margaret’s comment.
Sample: “Ran out of milk earlier & it had the same emotional impact on me as being in Gaza with no access to safe, clean water” Fabulously incisive, I think you will agree.
As it happens, the advice of Dame Margaret’s father has a depressing application today. I remember interviewing Swiss Jews at the height of the scandal in which Swiss banks were said to have held on, illicitly, to wartime Jewish bank accounts, and then refused access to the account-holders’ heirs.
Without exception, every Swiss Jew in the room told me that not only did they know where their passport was — some even brandished them — but that they had a suitcase under their bed, packed and ready to go. An over-reaction? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Let’s look at the second result of Dame Margaret’s comment: the “revelation”, rolled out by some of Corbyn’s most ardent supporters, that her daughter, Lizzi Watson, was a BBC deputy news editor.
Wow. Conspiracy central. The clear implication was that pro-Corbynites — and, for that matter, Corbyn himself — couldn’t get a fair hearing while the Jewish daughter of a Jewish MP held such a powerful position.
Hot on the heels of this nastiness came yet another. A person called Keith Cooper put out a series of tweets demanding as follows: “Time is ripe for Jewish MPs to openly declare where they stand on illegal settlements in Israel/Palistine and the treatment of GAZA residents. Get it on record”.
The fact that Cooper can’t spell Palestine is beside the point. What he is demanding — against the seemingly never-ending series of stories about what Corbyn was doing with various Hamas operatives, and when — is that Jews “prove” their loyalty. How’s the bad taste in your mouth coming along, Labour leaders?
With so much to choose from, I can’t leave out the latest “event” — the astonishing response to a Unite trade unionist, who had decided to resign his decade-long membership. David Levene said he refused “to be represented at work by an antisemite and a racist”, by which he meant Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, he of the “antisemitism is mood music” infamy.
To which the union’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, replied: “Your email to Len McCluskey has been noted, as has been your insulting and libellous remarks. Under these circumstances your resignation, as much as we regret losing any member, may be understandable.”
So, are we at war yet? Or is it just “events”?